Preserving the technique

“Just for our customers”, 80 year old lady makes traditional Japanese paper, Yanagiu Washi

Only one workshop still makes Yanagiu Washi (Japanese paper), which has been produced for over 400 years. At this workshop, Ms. Fumie Sato, an 80 year old Japanese lady, makes Yanagiu Washi. She stirs the tub filled with ingredients and scoops up the fibers with a special sieve-like tool while moving them back and forth repeatedly, a very much a physically demanding job. It’s impressive that such a small lady has the power in her to perform this job. She steams and peels the skin off of the hybrid mulberry tree and Oriental paper bush, then boils them into fibers. Next, sticky paste, made from sunset hibiscus roots, is added to make the undiluted paper solution. The viscosity of the sunset hibiscus root is very important in order to get rid of tangled fibers and to even out the paper. Despite the fact there are many procedures and the job is quite time consuming, Ms. Sato says “I can’t stop doing this for the people who use our paper.” This Yanagiu Washi is the result of much effort and love from her.

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1. She scoops up the fibers with a special sieve-like tool and moves them back and forth repeatedly, evening out the thickness and creating one sheet of paper every 20 to 30 seconds.

2. What she holds is a sticky paste made out of sunset hibiscus roots. In warm temperatures the viscosity of the paste weakens, meaning summer is usually the off season for paper making.

3. Following this, she compresses and dries each sheet of paper one by one.

 

Since the mass production of paper has spread and prices have been lowered, the demand for Japanese hand-made paper has decreased. Due to this, workshop numbers whittled down to 10 between the mid 1940s and mid 1950s and now only Ms. Sato’s workshop remains.

In recent years, Yanagiu Washi is used to make certificates for nearby elementary and junior high schools, as well as postcards and calligraphy paper. In addition, the demand for lampshades and other interior decorations is increasing the need to create Japanese paper.

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1. Old fashioned Matsukawa Daruma, made with Yanagiu Washi (owned by Sendai City Museum of History and Folklore)

2. Tanabata decorations hanging in the lobby of SendaiCityMuseum during the Tanabata Festival. The strips of paper used for this decoration are also made with Yanagiu Washi. (Photos provided by Sendai City Museum)

3. The Yanagiu Washi workshop also stocks a wide variety of Japanese paper produced in other areas of Japan, promoting the merits of the paper and meeting the diverse needs of their customers.

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